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[Review] – ‘Sicario’

 

 
Overview
 

Release Date: 2 October 2015 [USA]
 
Director: Denis Villeneuve
 
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
 
Cast: Emily Blunt - Josh Brolin - Benicio Del Toro
 
Direction
 
 
 
 
 


 
Writing
 
 
 
 
 


 
Performance
 
 
 
 
 


 
Sound & Music
 
 
 
 
 


 
Cinematography
 
 
 
 
 


 
Editing
 
 
 
 
 


 
Visual Effects
 
 
 
 
 


 
Total Score
 
 
 
 
 
4/5


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Posted September 28, 2015 by

 
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Review:

Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies (2010) is a masterful depiction of the complexity of history and forgiveness. He followed it up with Prisoners, the best movie of 2013, about how far we are prepared to go when we can never be certain about anything. His next movie Enemy, was not as successful, but it was an undeniably intriguing examination of identity which provided an award-worthy performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. Clearly, Villeneuve is one of the most gifted filmmakers working today.

His newest movie, Sicario, is so good on so many levels, that its one significant failing becomes maddening. This could have been one the greats, but it will have to settle for being one the very goods.

Sicario begins with an FBI raid on a suburban house in Arizona which is thought to contain hostages. Agent Kate Macer does not find hostages. She finds decomposing corpses sealed away in the walls of the house. She loses two fellow agents when a booby-trapped shed explodes.

This experience leads Kate to join a somewhat mysterious team who are going after the drug cartel leaders responsible for this atrocity. She is working with Matt Graver, who is merely described as a “consultant” and Alejandro, who is never really described as anything.

Kate will battle moral demons as Matt and Alejandro take her further and further off the grid and into questionable legal territory. Eventually, she will come to understand what their true motives are and will be faced with her own crisis. There will be much violence, murder and torture, and an awful lot of chain smoking.

Sicario hits incredibly hard at its subject. It has an aura of hard-worn reality about what it really means to fight the drug war. Perhaps because it features a woman venturing into a male-dominated, militaristic milieu and going after some really bad guys, it is reminiscent of Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. Its plot, though complex and full of secrets, is far tighter than Bigelow’s, in part because it confines its actions to a very limited time period. It has slow passages but it never drags.

And in Emily Blunt as Kate, it has a stand-out performance at its core. Blunt is tough as nails, but weak when facing overwhelming odds. She can be Machiavellian when necessary but never loses her idealistic belief in the rule of law. She completely fits into the role in all its complexity.

Her two primary counterparts – Josh Brolin as Matt and Benecio Del Toro as Alejandro – could do their tough guy roles in their sleep. They are both so solid as the forces of righteous vengeance. If their performances do not achieve the level of Blunt’s, it is only because their roles are simpler.

And therein lies the problem with Sicario – the thing that keeps it from being as great as it could be. Matt and Alejandro are never wrong. Every move they make is dead on. Kate wrings her hands over the legality and the morality of their actions, but it’s hard to deny that they do in fact get their men. Villeneuve has always shown the genuine danger in believing you are always right. It was what made Prisoners so great. Here, Matt and Alejandro – and by extension, the audience – never have to face the consequences of their decisions. They never have to overcome a fuck-up. Kate may stress out over a theoretical abuse of power, but that’s all it is. Theoretical.

There is a tense sequence early on at a border crossing in which serious damage is done to morally ambiguous characters. Toward the end, another morally ambiguous character is killed. The characters who die early on are mere fodder, but the film has devoted some time to humanizing man at the end. That moment of killing does stir up some genuine angst over the choices that Matt and Alejandro take. But the way Villeneuve and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan have set things up, it becomes far too easy to wish that we just had a few more Matts and Alejandros patrolling the border. To hell with Donald Trump’s big wall.

Last year, a debate simmered over Clint Eastwood’s portrait of Chris Kyle in American Sniper. I wrote the same thing at the time. Chris Kyle in American Sniper never takes a bad shot. He never misses a shot. If we could be guaranteed that those we entrust with guns and money to fight our enemies would never make a wrong call, then it would be a lot easier to feel OK about their actions. Sadly, we don’t live in that world.

The final sequence in Sicario is a devastating vignette of what the battle over drugs means to a great many regular people. This is kind of filmmaking that Villeneuve can do as well as anyone working today. That sequence reminds us how good Sicario is, and how great it very nearly was.

 

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Jonathan Eig
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